Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: congress, faith, government shutdown, Habakkuk, hope, injustice, Luke, poverty, vision
Ever hear comments like these:
I don’t watch the news anymore, it’s too depressing.
The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer and the middle class is shrinking.
The world is getting more and more dangerous. Things aren’t safe anymore. I worry about my children.
Leaders are corrupt, everyone is just in it for themselves.
I feel like the world is crumbling around me.
These are things I’ve heard people say today- maybe you’ve said one or two yourself.
They are also things that Habakkuk, or the people around him, might have said. Habakkuk lived back in 600 BC, in Judah. Judah was a small country, stuck between the powerful empires of Babylon and Egypt. Their situation was precarious at best. Even within their own land, leaders were corrupt, the rich cheated the poor, violence was rampant, and nothing seemed likely to change.
Habakkuk was a prophet. He spoke to God and shared God’s message with all the people. The book of Habakkuk records some of this conversation. It begins with Habakkuk’s rant against God: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” (1:2a)
The courage and faith of the prophet- that he can tell it like it is! These words of Habakkuk were written so very long ago, and yet I hear them coming alive for us today. Have you not seen injustice, and thought, “God, why are you not doing anything!”
Maybe you’ve put the question this way: If God is all powerful, if God cares about God’s people- why are violence and evil winning? I think there are a lot of people, in and out of the church, who have this question. It might be a big reason many people leave the church, or don’t come to a life of faith when they first hear a witness speak of God. After all, what good is it to believe in and worship a God who says he doesn’t want war or injustice or poverty or death… and yet still seems to let it all happen- or maybe worse, is powerless against all these evils.
Habakkuk doesn’t disengage God because of the situation he sees the world in. Rather, he calls God to account. He lays it all out and then waits for God to give some reasoning and answer. At first, God replies in an evasive way, speaking of using other nations to punish the wicked among God’s people. We skip this part in our reading this morning. Habakkuk won’t accept this as God’s answer. Instead, Habakkuk declares that he will wait for a better response. This declaration reminds me of the new stage we’ve entered as parents of a two-year old. Our sweet little girl has become frighteningly adept at pouting her lips, crossing her arms, and sitting down on her butt whenever she’s determined to get her way. Habakkuk has a bit more dignity, but his resolve is just as strong. His message to God is “I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep what to see what (you) will say to me, and what (you) will answer concerning my complaint” (2:1).
Finally, God gives an answer Habakkuk accepts… but I’m not sure that it will satisfy all of us. God declares: “there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie” (2:3a).
Habakkuk clearly does not want to wait for God to act. His earlier speech shows that he wants to see results now. In God’s answer, God reflects a recognition of Habakkuk’s impatience. God’s promise that there is still a better future is followed by a rather cryptic explanation of when this future will come: “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay” (2:3b).
At the end Habakkuk seems able to accept that God is faithful to God’s promises, that God will bring a better future someday, even if all signs in the present point to the contrary. Habakkuk’s response is a long poetic prayer that images God as a powerful warrior, protecting and saving his people, destroying the enemies, and even having control over all the natural forces. Habakkuk keeps this vision of God even when his world hasn’t changed, when evil still seems to win, when God’s power seems questionable. The book of the prophet ends with quiet words of hope welling up from a place of pain:
“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.” (3:17-18)
You may be finding yourself in a strange season: when the fig tree does not blossom, and all that is expected to give life is strangled on the vine. When you wonder how God can let something wrong continue. Are you able to hear God’s vision for the future, even in that difficult place? It takes great faith to stand in the midst of despairing circumstances and declare: “yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”
We hear from the Gospel of Luke that “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” (Luke 17:5). This may be related to Jesus’ previous teaching regarding forgiving an offender even when he continues to sin in the same way, or it may lead up to the teaching that disciples are simply expected to do the work before them, or it may not be connected to either.
It may be the plea that we need to cry. Without God working faith in us, how can we trust God when there are so few signs that God is at work? How can we join Habakkuk in looking at the brokenness and injustice all around us, and declare, “I will exult in the God of my salvation?”
Jesus is the vision we are meant to hold onto, cling to, when all else seems to fall apart, and the floor opens under us. Jesus is the one who gives us the faith to trust in God’s power to make good win, and a vision of how God is doing this. Jesus was not blind to the injustice around him. He confronted it. He saw the suffering around him. He entered it. Jesus was killed, and God showed ultimate power in raising Jesus to life.
The vision of Jesus resurrected is that which out to be made “plain on tablets” (Hb 2:2) so that not only a runner far off or zooming by might read it, but so that all people, whether in the midst of despair or joy, would know that God is at work- that God has a plan- and that God will follow through. God will restore all things. God will resurrect this creation. Jesus is the first sign of that great action to bring life. God will bring your salvation.
May Jesus Christ meet you in this word and supper that we share, giving you the faith you need to live in the struggle of this life and yet rejoice in the God of your salvation. Amen.
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